End Reading Shaming

End Reading Shaming

My current To Be Read pile

My parents had a simple philosophy when we were growing up: “reading is reading.” They never confined us to a specific section of the bookstore, and they never took a book out of our hands because it wasn’t “age-appropriate.” (Unlike several librarians I can name) Which is why I bypassed what would now be considered the Young Readers section by the age of 8, moving on the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. (Young Adult wasn’t a thing back then)

I’ve held to that philosophy throughout my life. Simply put, I read what piques my interest. I don’t care what section the book comes from. Why should I? I write speculative fiction. My worlds don’t exist in reality. My ideas come from anything and everything. As such, I explore EVERY possibility. That means reading every possibility.

People give me the strangest looks in the store.

I grew up watching Anime. As such, I love Manga. Some I read because I loved the Anime and want to compare the original comic. (If you’ve only ever made fun of Sailor Moon, you don’t know the beauty you’re missing out on) Some are hauntingly bewitching in their art and make me cry no matter how often I read them (Full Moon o Sagashite). Others I’ve become so obsessed with, I’ve started learning Japanese because I can’t stand the fact I have to wait AN ENTIRE YEAR between volumes (Skip-Beat – my sister’s to blame for getting me started on that one).

Japan has light novels, which combine gorgeous drawings with writing. Anime usually follow these creations. They’re shelved in the same section, and I have a host of those I follow. Typically, they’re released faster than Manga, so my wait time is shorter. Sword Art Online was my first obsession here, and I’ve followed the series through multiple story arcs.

But I’m not a teenager, so people stare.

I write in the YA genre. Logic says read what you write. Okay, fuck logic – there’s amazing YA out there. The majority of what I read these days is YA. I stalk certain authors (Cassandra Clare, Rin Chupeco, Sarah J. Maas, S.J. Kincaid, Merissa Meyer) through Amazon so I know when their books are hitting the shelves. While that section isn’t my first stop in the store, I do always end up there eventually. I take risks on new authors in the YA section – something I’m usually loathe to do in other sections. I can’t explain why other than to say the blurbs are more appealing and the cover art is better. (I don’t listen to book reviewers – sorry) The majority of authors I buy hardback books from are YA authors.

However, not a young adult, so people give me strange looks.

And don’t get me started on the alarmed looks when I hit up the Young Readers section. Let me explain something to the uneducated: a book is considered a “Young Reader” because of the age of the characters in the book. That’s it. Which is why His Dark Materials is shelved there, despite the fact the religious debate and concept of duality in human nature are WAY over the heads of most children Lyra’s age. I re-read my copy and marvel every time at nuances I’ve missed (and laugh hysterically that I had to hunt the book down in that section – it is in the YA section now).

Have you ever been over there? There are ENORMOUS books over there! There are amazing books in that section! Read the blurbs sometimes. The worlds an characters – they’re phenomenal! Artemis Fowl is one of the best antiheroes I’ve encountered in a long time! If you skip the section because it’s next to Dr. Seuss (and, seriously, why are you NOT reading Dr. Seuss?), you’re missing out. Brave the looks and walk your butt over there.

Stop reading shaming!

READING IS READING! Where you pick up a well-written book shouldn’t matter. Comics (totally love Spider-Gwen/Ghost Spider and Harley Quinn) your thing? Fine! (If you feel a need to call them Graphic Novels to make yourself feel elevated, whatever works for you) Children’s books? Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

I don’t understand this need to put people in a box. Bookstores are OPEN. Libraries are OPEN. Stop shuttling people into sections like cattle. Let people explore and find new ideas, new authors. I put everything I read up on my Goodreads feed – I’m not ashamed! I’M A READER! I pull out anything and everything for my niece and nephew, exposing them to the best books that have crossed my paths. I want them to be readers, and I don’t want them to be afraid to explore.

If you’ve never left your “section” for fear of the LOOKS, try it. You’re missing out by confining yourself. Pick up a new book, a new author. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Fill in the Blank

Fill in the Blank

Two of my coloring books and my favorite set of markers

Let me lay all of the cards on the table: I was coloring well before it became a trendy fad (and, no, I don’t mean back in school when you got graded for it). Coloring books and crayons (markers and coloring pencils came later with the popularity boom) have been my go-to solace from the world since my parents first introduced me to those tools. I endured side-eyes and forced smiles from people when I perused the aisles in stores (clearly sans children) for years. Now, I roll my eyes at those same people gushing over how therapeutic coloring is (hypocrites).

That said, coloring books really are wonders, especially for people in the creative arts. Obviously, they’re great for people with artistic flair, but anyone with a penchant for creativity can benefit from taking a break with a coloring book and their color medium of choice. Why? Because coloring quiets your brain. Why else would therapists champion it all the time? You go into a zen state where everything falls away, leaving you with no concerns, no stress, and no thoughts beyond which color to pick up next.

Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome!

So, yeah, it’s a hero for people, like me, who battle anxiety and depression (if you read my Silentio Sonante blog, this isn’t news). When the brain goes into overload, it’s a safe escape and reset button. For my loved ones, they know the sight of my bamboo lapboard and markers scattered around me means I’ve hit my limit. They leave me alone until the book closes, and then they ask how I’m feeling. It’s a silent “Do Not Disturb” sign that conveys more information to them than the actual little door sign.

But coloring books do so much more.

Writer’s block happens – ask any writer. (And if they tell you it doesn’t, they’re lying through their teeth) You hit walls, and hammering at them gets you nowhere. You can’t force synapses to function. Coloring can offer solutions. It’s designed to relax you, and your malfunctioning brain. (Okay, maybe writer’s block isn’t a malfunction, but it sure feels like it sometimes!) Set your trouble scene at the front of your mind, pick a coloring book, and then let go. Somewhere in the midst of all of those colors, things start to unravel. Maybe because you stop beating at the wall with a sledgehammer and step back from it for a second (and realize there’s a freaking door two steps to the right). Maybe because you give up on the stranglehold you have on that synapse and return the blood supply.

Who knows?

Whatever the reason, you’ll figure out the scene and be able to get back to work. I find my grip on the markers relaxing. (I can also tell which pictures come from writer’s block versus mental health moments simply based on color intensity and color choice) My jaw eases, my shoulders sink back to their normal position, and I smile again.

Give it a try. Whether you need it for creative inspiration or just as a break from the world. You’re not being childish (even if you use crayons – my giant collection is still a personal favorite…even if the names are kind of weird). You’ll thank yourself for the investment, believe me.

Meet Juniper: The Laziest Race Dog Ever

Meet Juniper: The Laziest Race Dog Ever

Juniper - our silly dog

Here it is – the official last Minion introduction! My poor fiance’ was forced to endure the Cat Test before I decided we could officially start dating. (After all, if they didn’t like him, he’d have to go) Those three and I came as a complete package. Juniper is unique because she entered the family after he and I were already dating and in the process of moving in together.

He’d had Greyhounds in the past, and I’d been a Greyhound fan for years. Why not? They’re basically cats in dog form. After years of cooing over them at Renaissance Faires (yes, I’m one of those people. Oh, don’t act surprised), and spending hours sitting with them in my Faire costumes, I knew I’d own one some day. Now that I had a house of my own with a yard (oh, yeah, and someone who already loved the breed), the time was right.

The adoption hunt was on!

Synchronicity was on our side. Florida’s now-infamous law had just passed, and the various rescues were seeing a higher than usual influx of dogs needing homes. My fiance’ wanted to use the same rescue he had before (he visited it on a regular basis), so we stopped by after Thanksgiving.

Fun Fact: The Greyhound chooses the family.

After several misses (on a short list since we needed a dog that was cat-friendly), they brought out a new arrival from Florida. She was on the small side, missing more than the usual amount of hair (Greyhounds have bald butts from rubbing in their crates), and shy as all get out. Her name was June, and the moment we called her name, she came right over. In fact, every time we called her name, she came. We took her for a short walk, and she stayed with us. You would have thought she’d been with us for years. It was fate.

That was when the rescue tipped us off that they were concerned she was hypothyroid. (The direct opposite of Firefly – her thyroid wasn’t producing enough) That explained her lower energy level and hair loss. That solution was easy enough: life-long supplementation. They were more than happy to place her with a family holding a veterinary background.

Oh, yeah – one more tiny detail.

Literally tiny: Florida dogs came with a resistant strain of hookworms. Treatment existed, but it usually took up to SIX MONTHS to clear them! I still wasn’t too daunted – I knew how to handle hookworms (er, NOT to handle them being the first step).

We set the date to pick her up (she still needed to be spayed and vaccinated). Then came the heavy conversation on the drive home: what to rename her. “June” was a terrible name. Neither of us liked the idea of standing outside and shouting for a 80-year-old grandmother. (No offense if your grandmother is named June)

There was a problem, though.

She was two-years-old. So we couldn’t completely change a name she was used to. That meant the new name needed to SOUND like her current name. After discarding the most obvious (Junebug, Juno), Juniper popped out. We’d be bringing her home just before Christmas, Juniper is an herb of protection (and while we didn’t expect that from her, we wanted it FOR her) – it was meant to be.

Juniper came home, and two out of three of her new siblings were NOT impressed. Firefly didn’t mind too much – until she barked at him, then he was having NONE of it. In fact, it took him MONTHS to forgive her. Tonks engaged in “scouting” missions, sneaking up under blankets and around furniture to spy on this new intruder. Squeak, oddly enough, accepted her right off the bat. He meeped a “hello,” butted her head, and decided she was family and belonged.

Of course, Tonks appropriated Juniper’s beds from the start. There is nothing funnier than watching a 70-pound dog avoid her bed because a tiny 7-pound kitten is parked in the middle of it. To this day, Juniper will surrender one of her beds if Tonks decides to sleep in it. The original animosity has dissipated, though, and all four of them get along. Tonks and Juniper will even play together, and they curl up in the same sunbeams.

Typical Juniper sleeping pattern.

It took Juniper’s personality months to surface. While she had toys available from the beginning, she didn’t start to play until about three months with us passed. Now she plays with her toys on her own. She still hasn’t figured out fetch, but she does get chase. She partakes in about four laps of “zoomies” around the yard once a day, and the rest of her time is devoted to napping – usually with most of her body OFF the bed.

With the exception of her trademark backend bald patches, the remainder of her hair has regrown BEAUTIFULLY. We have no idea where she learned it (it’s not a Greyhound trait), but she barks at the doorbell (and the Netflix tone). Of course, she then runs to the other end of the house, so she’s not the most efficient guard dog. She’s still shy around strangers, but once she learns she gets pets, she warms up. She’s come a long way from the terrified girl we saw at the rescue.

And she makes our little family complete. The cats think of her as that “really big cat who goes outside.” She sees the cats as “the little cats with the little toys.” It works perfectly.

Running Log

Running Log

Screenshot of my Excel Tracker

If you decide you’re only ever going to write one thing in your life, maybe you won’t need this post. Just kidding – you still will. Plus, who wants to only write one thing? That’s just plain madness. Writers are infected individuals – consumed with a never-ending need to to create. And once our creations are complete and polished, we have to send them out into the world.

Which is where things get complicated.

Now, I spoke about my passionate love of white boards already. Frankly, I don’t know how I’d live without them. But they have their limitations. While a quick glance over my shoulder tells me where my short stories are right now (and how long they’ve been there), the board can’t tell me everywhere they’ve BEEN. Markets today have strict policies regarding submissions, and woe-betide the writer that fails to follow the guidelines. One of the biggest is that, unless they specifically request a rewrite from you, they don’t want to see anything twice.

While I have a great memory, it isn’t perfect. There’s no way for me to remember where every story has been. I mean, there are currently nine stories listed on my board, with more being written all the time. Recall where each one’s been?

Madness!

Asking my white board to do that is just as insane. (I’m not sure they make white boards that big). I also have personal essays, magazine articles, and novels to keep track of. While there’s some appeal to living in a house made of white boards, I don’t think my fiance’s is going to go for it. (Nor does he want to deal with the meltdown that would ensue if something got erased)

This is where Excel became my best friend. It took me all of five seconds to create a tracking spreadsheet. With one glance, I can see what genre a story is (newsflash: not every market takes every genre), the length, where it’s been, how long the response time was (helpful in case I’m considering holding out for a certain market), and my reference numbers. I never end up accidentally repeating a submission, I don’t accidentally send a simultaneous submission (some markets allow this, but most don’t), and I can see which markets have sent personal rejections over form letters. I log tons of valuable information for myself. All from a few minutes of my time.

And it takes no time to update!

Screen shot of the Market tab of my Excel tracking spreadsheet

Best of all, I keep a running list of markets. I know who accepts what, word limits, editor names (hint: never send a cover letter to “Editor” – use their name), and which markets are currently on hiatus.

Yes, setting up the Market tab took a lot longer. It’s worth it, though. I know when reading periods are. I know what restrictions are in place for various markets (i.e., must be clean, must contain a required science element, must have an animal, etc.). When I’m ready to submit one of my stories, instead of having to run through my bookmarks, hunting for a suitable match, I just consult the tab. (And, yes, I have the payment information right at my fingertips)

Wait – am I discussing organization again?

Of course I am! Organization is a writer’s best friend! You can definitely try to do everything by the seat of your pants. I wish you luck. When I first started, I just had file folders. And I wasted time combing through them, trying to figure out where a story had already been. I had to constantly read guidelines and search for markets. (Granted, this was also back when you sent submissions via snail mail) It SUCKED! I had to learn the hard way to be smart and make my life easier.

There are apps and programs available that do this for you, and you can definitely take advantage of them. Personally, I like Excel. I already own it, so it doesn’t cost me anything, and I can set it up however I want. As long as you find a system that works for you and keeps things on track, that’s what matters. You’ll be happy, I promise.

More to the point, the markets you’re submitting to will be happy.